It was a simple enough idea. Signal-Return, the letterpress shop in Eastern Market, wanted to introduce itself to more artists and do good at the same time.

And that's how "On Press: Making Visible an Unseen Detroit" was born, a novel concept pairing six Michigan artists with social-service nonprofits richly deserving of a little publicity.

"Lee Marchalonis, our lead printer, wanted to find a way to bring artists into the shop who didn't know about letterpress printing," said S-R director Lynne Avadenka. 

Additionally, Signal-Return gets a ton of visitors on Saturdays, many from the suburbs, and the two women wondered how they could shine a light on admirable, under-the-radar nonprofits doing great work. 

The solution was to harness artists to create a limited-edition poster "advertising" each of the six organizations, which are for sale at Signal-Return for $80 apiece. The shop will split the proceeds 50-50 with the individual nonprofits.

Artists involved were Mark Arminski, Louise "Ouizi" Jones, Sabrina Nelson, Renata Palubinskas, Pat Perry and Vito Valdez. 

Arminski, creator of some of Detroit's most-iconic old rock posters, paired up with the Georgia Street Community Collective, a neighborhood garden and community center on the city's east side. 

"Initially I wasn't aware of Georgia Street," Arminski said, "but I did some research and liked what they were doing. They seem like a small, interesting organization that probably doesn't have a lot of money coming in."

His poster features a small, black trowel on an orange and red background, with green vines forming a heart around it. 

For their part, members of the Georgia Street collective were thrilled. 

"We were honored and happy to be chosen," said founder Mark Covington. "The poster is beautiful and we can't wait to get a copy to hang in our community center."

Vito Valdez picked an admirable group with an ominous-sounding name, Last Day Dog Rescue in Livonia. 

Last Day buys up dogs and cats that would otherwise be euthanized from shelters in southern Michigan and Ohio, and places them with foster families before adopting them out. 

"We've been around about 10 years," said Last Day's Carol Snodgrass. "We pull from high-kill shelters, and fully vet all our animals -- they're spayed or neutered and microchipped."

Valdez, who's adopted his share of abandoned dogs over the years, decided it was a good fit "because I'm all about the creatures on the planet."

Still, he admits it was hard to pick from the list of nonprofits Avadenka had compiled to help with the process. 

"It was a tough decision, because there are so many out there," Valdez said. "I really had to think about who could use the most help." 

Snodgrass is tickled pink with his black-and-white poster. 

"It looks like a woman trying to pull a dog out of a cage," she said. "It's pretty stark, but pretty truthful, too. It's to the point. It's real."

Other participating social-service nonprofits were Freedom House, Black Family Development, Detroit Hives and Keep Growing Detroit

Part of the pleasure for the artists was getting to try their hand at letterpress printing, which was new to all six. 

Letterpress printing is as old as Gutenberg and the printing press. Letterpress produces images by pressing -- or clamping -- an inked, raised surface against sheets of paper. 

"I'd never done letterpress," Arminski said. "I've done lithographs, stone lithographs, and silk-screened for years. I think I did some wood cuts in junior high school. But that's the last time I took a knife and carved anything."

It's perilous, exacting work. Not only do you have to have a different carved surface for each color used, but one false move, and you can ruin a linoleum block you've worked hours on. 

"One little mistake," said Valdez, "and you've cut off a piece you need." 

For his part, Valdez ended up creating his carved blocks in an all-day sprint. 

"One Sunday, I worked on it for 10 hours straight," he said. "And then it was done. I put my heart and soul into that cutting and incising."

Avadenka got grants to fund the project from the Windgate Foundation in Arkansas, and the Detroit Knight Arts Challenge, so was able to give each artist a $1,000 honorarium, plus a free set of tools.

There's money in the pipeline for another six artists, and Avadenka says next year the Scarab Club will host a show devoted to the "On Press" project. 

Arminski, for one, is a convert.

"I thought it was a great idea," he said, "because it brings artists a little bit closer to the community." 

(313) 222-6021 



1345 Division, Detroit 

10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Sundays 

(313) 567-8970 

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